UPDATE (SRI LANKA): Complications develop in the prosecution of perpetrators
In AHRC’s last communication on this matter, AHRC informed of a letter it had received from the Attorney General’s Department of Sri Lanka, stating that the case had been referred the Prosecution of Perpetrators of Torture Unit, functioning under the Attorney General’s Department, for investigation. After investigation by this unit, the Attorney General will study the file for the purpose of filing charges. The charges are under the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman, degrading punishment and treatment Act (Act No.22 of 1994). The offences defined under this Act carry a mandatory sentence of 7 years and a fine of not less than Rs.10,000 (104 USD).
However, complications have now arisen as the Deputy Inspector General of Police for Wayaba has filed criminal charges against five police officers, including the Officer In Charge (OIC) of the Wariapola police station, under the Penal Code of Sri Lanka, for causing simple and grievous hurt to Nandini Sriyatha Herat. These are comparatively less serious offences. What is more, the gravity of state officers inflicting torture on a civilian has been brought down to merely physical hurt caused by one civilian to another.
When the case came up before the Wariapola Magistrate on 16th August, 2002, the police officers were formally charged for causing simple and grievous hurt to Nadini Sriyalatha Herat and the police officers pleaded not guilty to the charges. When a bail application was made on behalf of the police officers, Priyantha Gamage, the Attorney At Law who appeared for Ms. Herat, objected to the bail on the grounds that these police officers were still working in their official capacity, and also that they were very likely to interfere with the witnesses and to harass them. Mr. Gamage also stated that the police officers should have been charged for torture under Act No.22 of 1994, and offences under that Act were unbailable. The Magistrate granted Rs.10,000 bail for each of the accused. She also ordered that their passports be impounded and the immigration and airport authorities be informed of this order. The Magistrate severely warned the accused not to harass the witnesses. She also stated that it was embarrassing to have the same officers who prosecute others to appear in court as the accused. Therefore she requested that the Judicial Service Commission assign a different court to hear this case. The next hearing has been fixed for 1st October.
A huge crowd of villagers came to court to witness the case. Many expressed frustration at the accused police officers continuing to be in service after being charged with a criminal offence. The country’s law requires that any government officer charged with a criminal offence should be interdicted from service till the end of the case.
In another dramatic development, the accused police officers were reported in the press to be engaged in a campaign to oust their Deputy Inspector General of police who filed the charges against them, with the help of some powerful local politicians. The Minister of Women’s Affairs, who lives very close to the police station where Ms. Heart was tortured and sexually harassed, has throughout tried to defend the police officers. When asked by BBCSinhala service whether she talked to the victim to find out her side of the story, she admitted she had promised to talk to the victim. However, the Women’s Minister has not yet spoken to the victim. Instead, it is widely believed that she is trying to protect the police officers.
AHRC has sent below letter to the Prime Minster, the Attorney General and DIG at Wayaba, requesting the filing of charges against the police officers for committing the offence of torture as defined under Act No. 22 of 1994.
Re: Investigations into the torture case of H. P. Nandini Sriyatha Heart – The complaint against Wariapola Police
I refer to this case that has really shocked me. I was happy to learn later that this complaint has been referred to the investigation by the Prosecution of Torture Perpetrators Unit, functioning under the Attorney General Department of Sri Lanka.
A recent development in the case indicates that perhaps without consultation with this unit, charges have been filed against 5 police officers on the basis of the same complaint. The charges are under the Penal Code of Sri Lanka, for simple and grievous hurt. Besides being a much less serious offences than offences under Act No. 22 of 1994, such filing of charges reduces criminal acts done by state officers to those who are in their custody, to the similar status as offences done by one civilian to another.
I have also learned that Ms. Heart’s Attorney pointed out to the Magistrate at Wariapola on 16th August when this case was taken up that the police officers are likely to interfere with the witnesses. This is because, despite being charged before court on criminal charges, these officers have not been interdicted from service and their function as law enforcement officers. The magistrate who was aware of this contradiction, that is people charged with criminal offences prosecuting others on criminal charges, commented on the ridiculousness of the situation and transferred the case to another court.
I am kindly requesting your attention to this matter, so that torture perpetrators may be prosecuted under the appropriate law.